Atienza revokes Subic license to cut down trees

Published by rudy Date posted on January 8, 2009

THE Environment Department yesterday took over control of Subic following protests over its officials’ plan to cut down 300 mature trees and their alleged violation of environment laws.

Environment Secretary Lito Atienza announced the decision after revoking a 2006 agreement authorizing the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority to enforce environmental laws within the free port.

“The [department] is accountable to the people for the protection of the environment. Because of this, we have decided to take direct control in Subic,” he said.

Atienza told Subic Chief Armand Arreza that his agency had failed to secure an environment program for the free port in the two years it had control of its surroundings.

The agency also failed to submit for confirmation all clearances and permits it had issued to businesses locating within the free port, or to provide regular reports of environmental compliance within the zone, Atienza said.

Atienza’s decision came following increasing criticisms some big investors within the zone, a former US naval facility, were violating environment laws with impunity.

Last year, environmentalists slammed Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Corp. after the South Korean shipbuilder cut down trees on an islet it had leased to build one of its facilities.

Another Korean firm came under fire after environmentalists exposed its plan to cut down more than 300 mature trees to build a $120-million hotel.

Atienza said Arreza had assured him repeatedly that not one tree would be felled to build the planned Grand Utopia hotel, but a team that the Koreans hired to survey the area had claimed that at least 161 trees must be cut down allegedly because they were diseased.

Arreza said Subic Bay officials would be meeting with Atienza today, but did not disclose where or what time they would be meeting.

He said they were willing to cooperate with the Environment Department and to obey all environmental laws.

Earlier, a local architect first hired by Grand Utopia to design the project backed out, and supposedly after finding out that the management had decided to fell the trees.

The architect confirmed that the area was classified as urban forest, but said this was not a problem because they could still place buildings inside and design them in such a way that the trees could be preserved.

Grand Utopia was said to have hired the international firm Yamasaki next to design the hotel and casino, which supposedly would employ up to 1,000 workers. –Othel V. Campos and Cecille Garcia

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